When we first heard that Motorola were developing a new project that allows ‘users to swap out parts within a modular hardware ecosystem’ our immediate thought was: ‘we’ve heard this before.’ And the idea that sprung to mind of was, of course, Dave Haakens' infamous Phonebloks concept, the viral phenomenon that the entire world and your dad knows about by now. Phonebloks was criticized by a fair amount of naysayers, because of its extremely ambitious (if slightly unrealistic) cross-developer vision. Nevertheless, Motorola have now joined forces with Haakens for a more realistic, albeit less ambitious version of the concept called Project Ara.
To be sure, the concept of a modular smartphone is in itself nothing majorly new. And Motorola (now owned by Google) have, according to a recent statement, actually worked on this project for over a year. Still, the Phonebloks concept (despite the fact that it presented quite a few vague ideas and loose ends without offering concrete, viable solutions) was actually new in that it hinted at a kind of collaboration between the world’s best developers and the creation of one, superior smartphone with replaceable parts. It seems like there are actually traces of those likeable intentions in Project Ara as Motorola claim that they:
‘want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.’
On the other hand, Project Ara will, by all accounts, be contained within a Motorola model, which presents obvious limitations. In any case, it does seem a far cry from Haakens' tech-utopian vision.
Ultimately, this may not be the actualization of the wide-eyed promise that Haakens first captured the planet’s imagination with. But it does feel like a few significant steps in the right direction. Even if we are talking baby steps.
Check out more on Project Ara over on the Motorola blog